I am on book tour, so missed last Friday’s update because I was in a hotel with bad internet.
This week’s episode comes right after Makoto in Hell. http://larrycorreia.wordpress.com/2012/08/31/the-burning-throne-episode-42-makoto-in-hell/ As you saw there, the Paper Lanterns now know who is the mastermind behind Yuni being poisoned. Jimen is the Emerald Champion, which is a very important position in the Empire, and has been trying to claim the throne for himself.
For those of us just joining us, every Friday I post a bit of serial fiction that comes from Writer Nerd Game Night. These bits of fiction come from our Legend of the Five Rings Campaign. This one is almost done. I believe there are only 3 more episodes before we are done. If you want to read these, a link to the first one is under the Best Of tab and then they are all linked to each other. Or I have been posting all of them here in one place: http://www.alderac.com/forum/viewtopic.php?f=295&t=94523
The Ignominious End of Bayushi Jimen
Bayushi Jimen had been fast asleep when the strangers had intruded into his dreams. The Emerald Champion awoke with a start, immediately recognizing that someone had broken into the vault of his mind.
What had I been dreaming of? But he knew that answer immediately. It was what he was always dreaming of, plots within plots within plots. And as the time drew close for him to make his final moves on the great go board that would decide the fate of the Empire, someone had seen his secrets.
It had to be some form of magic? But what? His quarters were warded. Who could accomplish such a thing? He was already getting dressed when one of his servants called to him through the door. “Master, there is an emergency.”
“What now?” Jimen removed his katana from the rack and slid the sheath through his obi. It was not the traditional sword of the Emerald Champion, rather it was the powerful nemurani shame sword called Fear. It had been the sword that had helped him understand his true path to become emperor. The shame sword immediately began whispering to him, but Jimen’s considerable willpower kept it under control.
“Ide Todo and his shugenja are with Otomo Yuni. They are attempting some sort of ritual.”
“That cursed fool!” Jimen spat as he put on his mask. There was no way that mad Kuni’s magic was strong enough to break the curse, but it had to be related to the intrusion into his dreams. “Follow me,” he told his bodyguards. They were loyal to him, rather than to the office he held. They would do whatever was necessary. He slid open the door of his chambers and his servants scurried out of his way. Walking quickly, he went toward the Princess’ chambers. His personal guard like shadows behind.
He would not be outmaneuvered by a Unicorn.
But when the Emerald Champion reached the Otomo section of the palace and saw Otomo Yuni waiting there in the courtyard, alive, coherent, and very angry, Bayushi Jimen realized just how badly he had underestimated Ide Todo.
“That is the man who poisoned me,” Yuni stated coldly. “My mother is on her way.”
Jimen’s mind was moving rapidly. He was of high status, no one here could challenge him. Yuni’s word alone was not sufficient. However, Hoketuhime would surely use this to her advantage. She would turn the others against him and he’d never be able to take the throne then. He could see his plans unraveling. He had to move quickly.
There were only a handful of the Paper Lanterns here. His personal guard were superb fighters. There was still time to kill Yuni and then blame it on Todo’s men…
Ide Todo was not doing a good job hiding his disgust. That blasted delusional Crab, what was his name… Makoto… He was there… Wearing armor and covered in blood, most of his face hidden behind a peasant’s hat, only a massive unkempt beard hanging out the bottom, like some sort of barbarian. Even before he said a word, the shame sword Fear began shrieking at him. That is the one. The Crab is the one who witnessed your dream. You must silence him. Silence him now!
He had already done the calculations. The only warrior present was the Crab, and he was too young and inexperienced to have a chance against his personal bodyguards. “Kill them all,” Jimen ordered.
Katanas were unsheathed. Red silk flashed as they charged. The Crab stepped forward to meet them, tetsubo at his side. Jimen blinked.
And both of his personal guard lay crippled and dying, bones splintered and heads leaking.
Makoto pointed the bloody tetsubo at him. “I’ve gotten a lot of practice lately.”
The sword was shrieking at him. Fear clawed at his mind. There were shouts from nearby. Hoketuhime and her Seppun guard were on their way. Todo must have had messengers prepared to rouse her at a moment’s notice.
“It is over, Jimen. We know the truth,” Ide Todo spat. “We have witnesses to your crimes. Accept your fate with whatever honor you have left.”
The terrifying Kuni appeared. “Do you wish me to crush him with rocks, Todo-sama?”
“No, Magatsu. Let’s let Yuni and Makoto tell their story to the daimyos. Let him be executed like the criminal that he is.”
Silence them! Silence them!
Jimen was not thinking clearly. He was a go master, a cunning strategist, a superb plotter, but this was too sudden. All of his plans were collapsing at once. Fear had shown him what would happen to the Empire unless someone with his gifts was the one to rule it. This couldn’t be.
A line of Seppun guard fanned out into the courtyard and he caught a glimpse of his chief rival in their midst. Hoketuhime saw Yuni awake and gasped. Jimen’s leverage against her had just evaporated. Hoketuhime would now be free to use all of her own considerable allegiances against him.
Silence them! Silence them!
He made one last, desperate ploy. Let there be only one witness, a poor girl who had been delusional with fever. The Crab was of such low status that his words were meaningless on their own, but coupled with the Otomo family heir, it would be too damaging to his plans. His allies would see his weakness and flock to Hoketuhime’s side.
Besides, the Crab had almost no dueling tradition, and Jimen’s superb memory told him that his spy network had confirmed that this particular Crab had virtually no training in the art of iaijutsu. Jimen was no master duelist, he preferred to win all his duels with blackmail, but he was skilled enough to easily gut this fool.
“You! Crab!” Jimen shouted as he placed a hand on the hilt of Fear. “You have insulted my honor and the office of the Emerald Champion. I challenge you to a duel to the death, immediately.”
Makoto laughed. “Sounds good to me.”
“You dare mock me?”
The Crab placed his bloody tetsubo on the grass and walked purposefully toward Jimen. “Your very existence mocks the Empire.”
“My Lady…” one of the Seppun asked hesitantly.
“Allow it,” Hoketuhime ordered. Then she folded her arms and waited.
The abnormal new moon was eerily strong, making the courtyard far too white. Jimen met the Crab on a decorative bridge over a gentle pond. The Crab rested one hand on his Katana, awkward, clumsy, still wearing his heavy gauntlets that would make his draw stroke far too slow. “To the death then,” the Crab said. “I’ve been waiting to kill you for a very long time.”
That made no sense at all. The Crab could only barely have found out the truth. Fear was screaming at him, something about the Crab wearing the stink of the Realm of Slaughter, how the Crab had changed, but Jimen tried to block out the distraction. He assessed his opponent… The Crab just stood there, his form loose and sloppy. It was like he wasn’t even trying.
Bayushi Jimen drew. The shame sword seemed to glow with a sick grey light. His draw stroke was clean, flawless, and he drove the tip forward before the Crab had even begun to pull his own blade free. Fear pierced armor and flesh.
The Crab looked down at the sword jabbed into his side. He wasn’t even reaching for his own sword. Jimen pushed, trying to drive the blade deeper into the Crab but it seemed stuck on his armor. Impossible. Fear was a powerful nemurani, but it didn’t seem capable of cutting through this armor at all. Jimen tried to wrench the blade out so he could strike again.
Makoto simply reached down and grabbed Fear with one gauntlet. Jimen tugged, but the blade didn’t budge. “How dare you? How dare you!” Jimen shoved as hard as he could. Makoto was some sort of oni, he would not move. The big Crab towered over him, grimacing in pain, he lifted his other hand, fingers curling into a fist, and struck Jimen in the face.
It was like a bolt of lightning. Jimen’s nose split in half. Bones in his face broke. Makoto struck him again, and again, and again. His mask flew off in a spray of blood. He tried to release Fear, anything to get away from this monster, but Makoto let go of the blade and clamped his gigantic hand on top of Jimen’s sword hand, pinning him to the hilt of his own sword, trapping him as the merciless beating continued. Makoto struck him so hard that one of his eyeballs ruptured.
Finally he broke free and fell onto the bridge, gasping and crying, blood streaming down his face. Jimen’s mask was laying there before him in a red puddle. They can see my face! A strange thought, considering.
Makoto loomed over him, Fear still driven through his side.
“Please… Anything… Anything you want…” Jimen mumbled around his broken teeth.
There were many others in the courtyard gathered now, watching the spectacle, watching the fall of a despised and feared Emerald Champion. The Fortune Kisada seemed to look on approvingly. “I chose well,” the Fortune said. Bayushi Paneki, his own Clan Champion seemed somehow disinterested, but he had still come to watch the show. And Ide Todo… If only he had realized earlier how well that man could play the game.
Makoto glanced toward Otomo Yuni. She shook her head in the negative. Jimen’s fate, decided.
The Crab reached down and grabbed Jimen by the sleeve of his kimono, then he dragged him across the bridge, across the grass. Jimen could barely see. He reached for his tanto, but Makoto kicked him in the arm so hard that his forearm snapped in two. The dragging continued until he was plunged into cold water.
He came up splashing. I’m in a koi pond. Why am I in a koi pond? But then a massive hand wrapped around his neck and Makoto thrust him beneath the water to hold him against the soft bottom. Fish swam away in terror.
Jimen thrashed and tore at the Crab, but he was unyielding as rock. His remaining eye’s vision blurred as his air ran out. Blood streamed down the inside of his throat and spilled into his lungs. The pain was unbearable. The Crab did not relent.
I am the Emerald Champion. I should be Emperor! I should be Emperor!
In the last few seconds of Jimen’s life there came a sort of clarity. He had not meant for things to end this way. He had discovered Fear, and it has whispered to him. It had lived up to its name and the things it had shown him had terrified him. Politics had always been a game, but only he could win this game. He had been wrong to put his own fear and desires ahead of what was best for the Empire.
But then it didn’t matter, because the air was gone, and the water came rushing in to fill his lungs.
The pain only seemed to last forever.
To be continued next week with the final piece of fiction from Steve Diamond about the leader of the Paper Lanterns, Ide Todo. http://larrycorreia.wordpress.com/2012/09/21/the-burning-throne-episode-44-the-short-sword/